A Short History of Cahiers du Cinéma, By Emilie Bickerton

Way back, when film was radical

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The Independent Culture

In her introduction to A Short History of Cahiers du Cinéma, Emilie Bickerton argues that the French film journal inaugurated "the last Modernist project", and that without it, cinema "would certainly mean less to us today".

Strong claims, perhaps, but this compelling book goes a long way towards justifying them.

Founded in 1951, Cahiers became the mouthpiece for a cabal of upstart cineastes, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut among them, who defended the artistic credentials of modern film. They established a canon of great directors whom they famously characterised as "auteurs", and took aim at any fusty old critic who dared to disagree. As Truffaut put it in a typical salvo: "You can refute [Howard] Hawks in the name of [Nicholas] Ray, but to anyone who would reject them both, I would say this: stop going to the cinema."

These early contributors eventually left to make their own films but Cahiers continued to be influential into the Seventies – despite adopting a radical leftist political stance and high-flown academic register. When the Eighties arrived, the magazine, like so much else, declined into vapidity. Bickerton laments its demise, but in displaying the sort of iconoclastic wit that might have graced Cahiers in its heyday, her writing is eloquent proof that intelligent, forthright film criticism lives on.